Who doesn’t love a good swashbuckler? We’ve all probably seen some version of The Three Musketeers or read all about Horatio Hornblower’s high seas adventure, but have you all been introduced to Edmond Dantes, the wronged penniless sailor from the Alexander Dumas’ novel? (Ironically, Dumas is also the author who penned the Musketeers’ adventures.) This is a deeper, more complicated story than those escapades, although I don’t know that the feature film got it totally right in comparison to the novel, but nevertheless, the movie is one of the best good old-fashioned swashbucklers to this day.
As the son of a penniless fisherman, Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) is not a wealthy young man, but he is a happy one. Second mate on a prestigious cargo ship, Edmond is fiercely loyal to his friends… and his captain. When the man falls ill with brain fever, Edmond leads a rowing party ashore a secluded island – an island that houses the imprisoned Napoleon Bonaparte. The British closely guard the exiled French ruler and should anyone set foot on the island, they are shot with the assumption they are an agent of Napoleon’s. Somehow, Edmond manages to get the attention of Napoleon and under great reluctance the English allow a physician to attend the dying captain. While on the island Edmond is handed a letter from Napoleon which he swears is completely innocent. Reluctant but with little option – and a debt to pay, Edmond takes the letter, promises to deliver it and before morning comes he is back on the ship following the death of the captain. Impressed with his common sense and dedication once hearing the story, the ships owner Mr. Morrel decides to make the young, naïve Edmond its next captain much to the dismay of the first mate Dangler.
Bursting with the news, Edmond takes his excitement to his fiancée Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) with the proposal that they won’t have to wait two years to wed while his wealthy best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) is only further angered by Edmond’s good fortune – as he has been since they were children. Privileged with every earthly comfort he could want, Mondego has always been jealous of Edmond for his contentment… and Edmond holds the lovely Mercedes’ heart. Knowing the contents of the letter Napoleon passed to Edmond, Mondego takes his knowledge to the law. The prosecutor, Villefort (James Frain) has Edmond arrested and sent to the place they send prisoners they want to “forget”: Château d’If. Imprisoned for fourteen years, Edmond’s naivety insures his ignorance as to the reason behind his imprisonment, but with the help of fellow prisoner Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), Edmond gains knowledge… and an all-consuming thirst for revenge.
Even if you’ve not seen this feature film, everyone “knows” how the rest of the story plays out. Edmond naturally escapes and plans an elaborate scheme to exact revenge on everyone responsible for his years of misery. Right up front, I am just going to admit: I absolutely love this movie. Its messages are a little mangled as regards forgiveness, but there is genuine repentance in the final scene. Everything else about this production is scrumptious. From the costuming to the structures, it is simply grand. In fact, Edmond’s whole “transformation” is actually one of the most exciting parts of the movie, no matter how wrong his motivations are. Each time he meets a person from his past we are a little more enthralled with what he has planned; just watching his elaborate plans taking shape is a thrill. Helping him in all of this is his companion Jacopo, who is just hilarious. His straight-forward honesty and fierce loyalty is one of the most admirable traits in the movie.
Watching this movie was probably among the first I saw that was “grown-up” and as a result, I fell in love with the romance, adventure and excitement of it all. Thanks for this must go to the producers and the director who assembled a wonderful cast. Jim, Guy, James, Dagmara and even a very young Henry Cavill are all marvelous in their respective roles. Jim played Edmond perhaps more naive than he needed too, but it wasn’t because he was lacking confidence in the role – quite the contrary. Once he becomes the Count, he exudes confidence – there is nary a trace left of that wide-eyed sailor. On the downside, sometimes the movie may lag a bit; this is especially noticeable during Edmond’s imprisonment. Filmmakers then seemed to rush through the “take-down” of enemies in what is supposed to be about a two-year process – some of these scenes are actually the best. The script has a lot of poignant truths intertwined. God tells us in scripture that “vengeance” should be left up to Him, but it is true that sometimes in order to recognize a truth, we must first walk the path in order to learn the lesson – no matter how unfortunate it may be. This hero’s journey is fraught with unhappiness, but the outcome makes him a better person.
(PG13 cautions: one couple has pre-marital sex resulting in a pregnancy – there are a couple of far out shots of nude bodies. Mondego is a ladies man and constantly engages in extra-marital affairs; a married woman later sleeps with the man she truly loves. There is some swordplay including a few more graphic deaths – at least two men are run through with a sword.)